Game Snapshot: Colts vs Patriots

<p>The New England Patriots play inhospitable host to the Indianapolis Colts for what many consider the best matchup of the Playoffs. The Colts travel to Foxboro in search of the key to unraveling Bill Belichick's vaunted defense.</p> <p>Tom Brady, Corey Dillon and the rest of the Patriots offense, will have to prepare to match scores with the prolific Manning and company. Meanwhile Peyton Manning has to be relieved the Patriots are missing so many starters on defense. </p>

PHOTO: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls a play against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Colts 24-14. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

GAME SNAPSHOT: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:45 ET
GAMEDATE: 01/16/05
LOCATION: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro Mass.
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

SERIES: 66th meeting. The Patriots lead the regular season series, 41-24. New England has also won the only post-season game between the two franchises, posting a 24-14 decision in last year's AFC Championship game. This week's game will be the fourth between the two franchises in the last year. New England won the regular-season (38-34) and post-season matchups last year, while also coming away with a 27-24 decision in this year's season-opener. The Colts have dropped their last five in a row, six of their last nine and 16 of their last 20 meetings with New England. Indianapolis' last win in the series was a 30-23 victory at the RCA Dome on October 22, 2000. The Colts' last win at Foxboro was on November 19, 1995 (24-10).

2004 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 2nd (15th rush, 2nd pass); defense 29th (24th rush, 31st pass). Patriots: offense 7th (7th rush, 13th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 19th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Can Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel devise another scheme to keep Colts QB Peyton Manning in check? In last season's playoffs, the Patriots' corners were physical and picked Manning off four times. But the contact rules are stingier and Ty Law is out for the season, so Manning should be in for another big day. New England's best chance is to stop RB Edgerrin James and limit the effectiveness of the play-action pass. The Colts defense is also vulnerable, especially if Patriots RB Corey Dillon gets off to a strong start and can attack the smallish Indianapolis defensive line. One thing the Patriots don't want is to wind up in long passing situations in which Colts DE Dwight Freeney will either occupy two blockers or come after QB Tom Brady.

FAST FACTS: Brady has a 6-0 career postseason record. ... The Patriots have won the past five meetings, including a 24-14 victory in the 2003 AFC Championship Game, the only previous postseason meeting. ... The Colts are 0-2 at Gillette Stadium. ... The Colts are 13-14 in the postseason while the Patriots are 13-10.

PREDICTION: Colts 31-27

PERSONNEL NEWS

Colts:

  • OT Tarik Glenn was named to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for injured Cincinnati Bengals OT Willie Anderson. It's the first Pro Bowl appearance for Glenn, who had been named as an alternate. Anderson recently underwent knee surgery. Glenn is the first Colts' offensive lineman to play in the Pro Bowl since Wil Wolford in 1995.

  • LB David Thornton sat out a second day of practice but is expected to take part in Friday's workout. Thornton has been resting a strained groin. He will start on Sunday.

  • DT Josh Williams missed a second-day of practice on Thursday. Williams has been nursing a sore shoulder. He should be able to resume workouts on Friday and be available for the Patriots game.

  • LB Gilbert Gardner continues to get more in practice and may be able to play against the Patriots this week. Gardner suffered a shoulder injury three weeks ago.

  • LB Cato June returned to practice on Thursday and will start this week. June has been nursing a sore ankle and knee.

  • RB James Mungro was able to practice on Thursday. Mungro missed Wednesday's practice with a turf toe injury. He will be available to play Sunday.

Patriots:

  • LB Willie McGinest, 33, was the oldest linebacker in the league to start all 16 games and started every game for the first time since 1999 and for only the fourth time in his 11-year career. He finished the season with a team-high 9.5 sacks. "He's had a real good year," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's played in every game and contributed in every game. He's been consistent all year playing the run, the pass and in pass coverage. He's experienced, smart and one of our hardest working players."

  • LB Rosevelt Colvin grew up in Indianapolis and after missing last year's playoff meeting with a broken hip, is looking forward to this rematch. "It is big for me because it is against the Colts. I grew up watching the Colts. They were one of my favorite teams before I got into the league."

  • K Adam Vinatieri has made some of the most famous and clutch kicks in NFL history at this time of year when the pressure is its greatest. "You try to put all that pressure behind you," he explained. "You try to think about just the kick and not the implications of what it means. This time of year is difficult because the field gets chewed up, there is wind, rain and it gets colder. But you focus on the kick and not any of the other stuff."

  • WR Troy Brown will be under the gun this week as he tries to cover Indy slot receiver Brandon Stokley or even tight end Dallas Clark. He hopes his nine games of experience can carry him through a postseason in which he is certain to be targeted by opposing quarterbacks. "I just go out and play," Brown said. "As long as they get me in the right positions and as long as I don't screw that up and make a lot of mental errors, I think I can do OK. Everybody's good in the playoffs so it will be no easy task, but I'm looking forward to it. This is what you play the season for. I expect to get thrown at in all these games."

  • DB Antwan Harris, who was a member of both Patriots Super Bowl teams, re-signed with the club Thursday, replacing special teamer Eric Alexander.

  • CB Randall Gay expects to be targeted early and often by Peyton Manning, but said that's the way he has gone into every game. "I've expected them to throw at me not only every game, but every play. That's my approach," Gay said.

  • DB Hank Poteat could be used to return punts this week, but it's more likely that Brown is back deep because of his reliability. The Patriots muffed a punt for a turnover in the season opener against the Colts.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Colts:

Could this be the year that the Indianapolis Colts finally break through and win a road game against the New England Patriots?

That has been one of the most asked questions as the Colts prepare for Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

It has been roughly nine years and two months -- Nov. 19, 1995, to be precise -- since the franchise last tasted victory in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Since that 24-10 win, Indianapolis has returned empty-handed from seven consecutive trips to the northeast. That includes a 24-14 loss in last year's AFC Championship Game.

But it's not as if the Colts haven't had their chances. Take this year's regular season opener, for example. Indianapolis lost 27-24 to the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that it had every opportunity to win.

Indianapolis outgained the Patriots, amassing 446 yards in total offense as compared to 402 for the Patriots. The Colts more than doubled their opponents yardage on the ground (202-82) as Edgerrin James ran for 142 yards in 30 carries. Peyton Manning completed 16-of-29 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns.

But three turnovers inside New England's 20-yard line and a missed 48-yard field goal with just 19 seconds remaining in the game sealed the Colts' fate.

Such has been the Colts' luck, or rather lack of it, in dealing with the Patriots in recent years. Strange things always seemed to happen whenever Indianapolis traveled to Foxboro, whether the game was played in the Patriots' former home -- Sullivan Stadium -- or in their current state-of-the-art facility.

But the tide may be beginning to turn. While some national pro football pundits believe that Indianapolis' high-octane offense may have problems producing in the wintry weather conditions that are expected for this weekend's game, Colts coach Tony Dungy continues to believe that his team can get the job done.

"Jacksonville went up to Green Bay last month and that was supposed to be that you can't win with a Florida team in below zero weather. But they went up there and won the game," Dungy said.

"If you play better than the other team, you'll beat them. Wherever the game's played, whatever the weather is. You've got to go play better. That's going to be our challenge. We really don't subscribe to that indoor-outdoor theory. We've got a better road record than we have a home record since I've been here. So you've just got to go and play better."

Patriots:

The Patriots defensive coaches probably have some indigestion as they pore over film of the Colts scoring touchdown after touchdown on their way to a 522-point regular season and another 49 in the opening round of the playoffs.

One successful play they see on every tape of every game in every quarter is the stretch play the Colts have perfected. It's a play that Indy does several different things off of, but yet it always looks the same and it keeps defenses off balance.

"That is a good play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed. "Everybody works basically in the same direction and then however the defense unfolds to wherever the seam is, that's where they hit you. The concept of the play is to get to the perimeter. But if the defense widens, then everybody zones up on their man and the running back comes back inside. The pass goes with it and the cutbacks runs go with it."

The problem for the defense in defending the stretch is that the action draws the defense in one direction yet the play can still go anywhere on the field. Peyton Manning is so precise with the way he runs the play that it's difficult to tell whether he has handed the ball to running back Edgerrin James or pulled it back on a play-action pass.

On runs off the stretch, James chooses his running lane only after reading the defensive pursuit, and if it is a pass, Manning can throw to the backside or deep to the play side if the safeties have bitten on the play fake and allowed a receiver to run past them.

"I don't think it is anything other teams don't do," Belichick said. "It's just that Indianapolis is very good at executing it and the play action off of it. They get rid of the ball quickly and have good pattern combinations, which they call against the right coverages, which stresses the defense. They marry a lot of things together and that is what makes it so tough. They have the ability to attack the entire defense."

The Patriots simply must play disciplined, smart football to defend the stretch. Every defender must carry out his assignment or be caught out of position and watch the ball fly past him.

"You can make the mistake of always playing pass, but then he hands it off," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "You have to play sound and smart and makes plays. You can't wait for them to hand you the ball. Your goal is stop everything, but the fewer guys they have running free the better."

"You have to be patient in defending that play," safety Rodney Harrison said. "You can't be overaggressive and get sucked up on play action. Then the receiver gets a step on you, blows past you and it's a touchdown."

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